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« Has Matt Holliday helped Albert Pujols? | Main | Slow and Steady »

Loney on a Line

James Loney avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $4.875 million contract on Friday.  Loney's salary is kept low by his lack of power.  What he does do extremely well is put the ball in play on a line.  In 2010 James but the 12th most balls into play as line drives.

Most lines drives, 2010
Hitter Line Drives WOBA
Placido Polanco 126 0.657
Robinson Cano 124 0.739
Ichiro Suzuki 123 0.667
Carlos Gonzalez 120 0.802
Austin Jackson 119 0.739
Adrian Beltre 117 0.752
Joe Mauer 115 0.721
Michael Young 115 0.717
Vladimir Guerrero 111 0.742
Chone Figgins 110 0.641
Jose Lopez 110 0.696
James Loney 109 0.745
Daric Barton 108 0.738
Miguel Tejada 108 0.683
Raul Ibanez 107 0.730
Shane Victorino 106 0.725
Marco Scutaro 105 0.735
Jhonny Peralta 105 0.665
Albert Pujols 105 0.880
Aubrey Huff 104 0.763
Adrian Gonzalez 103 0.748
Matt Holliday 102 0.854
Denard Span 101 0.665
Billy Butler 100 0.844


Note that James wOBA on line drives ranks eighth among these players, which puts him on the dividing line between the true power hitters (Pujols, Butler, the Adrians) and the singles hitters (Figgins, Young Suzuki).  Loney's high line drive rates are a constant, as at least 22% of his balls in play went for liners in each of the last three seasons.

Part of that comes from pitchers preferring Loney line drives to home runs.  He hits line drives on the outside half of the plate:

James Loney line drives, 2008-2010He hits home runs on the inside half of the plate, and even off the inside corner:

James Loney home runs, 2008-2010So opponents pitch to his line drive strength, not his home run strength:

James Loney, all pitches, 2008-2010Is it worth it?  James's isolated power stands at .343 on fly balls, .245 on liners.  He collects many more hits on the liners, but they do less damage.  Given his very poor hitting on ground balls (.211 BA, .223 slugging), limiting his power by giving up more line drives appears to be a great tradeoff.

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